When it comes to explaining Easter to our children, we bump up against the same problems every year. First of all, our culture doesn’t point to Easter. There are no Easter songs playing on the radio. There are no parties in the lead up or the aftermath. Compared to Christmas, Easter just happens, with little cultural recognition other than a few minutes of interest in egg dying techniques. In contrast, even for nominal Christians, most of December in America directs itself toward what has more or less become a national celebration on December 25th. Sure, many people celebrate without direct reference to Jesus, but as I’ve written before, without his birth there would be no reason for the tinsel and the mistletoe.
We might bemoan the materialism of Christmas, but as parents we can also use it to our advantage. Everyone is paying attention. Schools take a break. Gift giving all around. It’s on the radio, in the mall, in our homes and in our churches. With Easter, not so much. One of my children has Good Friday off, but the others keep apace with their schoolwork. Ballet rehearsal is on for this Saturday. It’s easy to forget that we are preparing to mourn the death of Jesus and celebrate his resurrection in a few short days.
Secondly, my kids don’t retain the Easter story very easily. They remember eggs and bunnies from last year. They remember the sugar rush, and they are ready for more. But the theological narrative of Easter—that doesn’t linger in quite the same way. At Christmas, presents and special treats abound, but we also have the nativity scene and a birthday party for Jesus. Throughout the month of December, our children move the physical characters around and enact the story of Jesus’ birth. Moreover, this story isn’t only in the Bible but also in their regular life: baby is born! Celebration ensues! They’re clear that Jesus is a special baby born under special circumstances with a special purpose, but still. It’s familiar.
In contrast, they don’t remember the concept of the resurrection year in and year out. It’s a hard one to depict with figurines. They know that Jesus died on the cross, but death itself seems abstract to them most of the time. Sometimes it feels abstract to me too. Even atheists believe Jesus was born and that he died. But when I try to explain that his death enabled our forgiveness, and when I try to explain what it means for him to rise from the dead and offer us new life, words often fail. Easter trips me up not only because its culturally unremarkable and theologically abstract but also because it is hard to believe. And yet I have staked my life on this truth—this mysterious, glorious, abstract and yet real and transformative truth—and I want my kids to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection in their own lives every day.
So what’s a Christian parent to do?
Certainly in our family we could do more to buck the cultural trends and point our kids to Easter throughout the season of Lent. We failed in that endeavor this year, allowing ourselves to be distracted by spring break and a never-ending winter, not noticing the ways in which our culture’s indifference to the resurrection translated into our own inattention.
But we will be interrupt our regular routine this week in order to pay more attention to the events of Holy Week. We will read through six chapters of the Jesus Storybook Bible together, beginning with the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair in preparation for his burial. We will read the account of Jesus' passion in Mark's Gospel, and we will acknowledge the darkness of the cross on Friday and the joyful good news of the resurrection this Sunday.
Still, I think the most important way to teach our kids about Easter is to live it out all year long. To remember the death and resurrection of Christ in church on Sunday mornings through confession and celebration and through the mystery of communion. To practice the death and resurrection of Jesus in our family life, through admission of wrongdoing and the extension of grace to one another. To talk about the way all the Bible stories we read point to God’s saving and healing work in Jesus. To tell our kids the ways God has worked—in ancient times through the people of Israel, thousands of years ago through Jesus and his followers, throughout the centuries since then both within and outside the church, and continuing through the lives of believers today. To tell our kids that we have sins that need forgiving, and that Jesus has set us free from those in order to fully and freely love God and others. To trust that God gave us the bread and wine, the words of forgiveness and restitution, the directives about prayer, and the experience of transformation and healing, because those acts would help us better believe and know the reality of death and resurrection.
Easter reminds us to practice resurrection every day, and to trust that the holy and mysterious power that rose Jesus from the dead can continue to make us, and our children, new.